Fri, May 30, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Protesters must find middle ground

By Chiou Tian-juh 邱天助

Some time has passed since the Sunflower movement protests — which begun when a student-led group of protesters occupied the chamber of the Legislative Yuan on March 18 — have drawn to a close. Now that the excitement is over, it may be a bit easier for people to consider calmly the various aspects of the way protest movements have developed in this country.

Over the past few years, Taiwan has seen a never-ending series of protest movements, be they big or small in terms of participants. Protest has become a typical state of affairs in the nation and serves as an emotional outlet. Can a new force, or a new civic movement, come into being — one that transcends political parties and social classes and is pure, selfless, peaceful and rational? While many people would like to see that happen, it is by no means a certainty.

Economic wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a minority, while the country’s future is in the hands of a bunch of politicians whose salient characteristics are their shortsightedness and ideological bias.

Looking no further than the next election, they are only concerned with pleasing their core supporters.

Almost every clash between purportedly different political approaches is just another form of infighting between the pan-blues and pan-greens, or a bartering of interests between the two sides. Incapable of devoting themselves to basic constructive reform, politicians have let the nation slide into stagnation and even regression.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government might promise in all sincerity that they are striving for the prosperity of the nation, but their performance has earned them no plaudits. People are largely subject to psychological perceptions and infectious emotions. For most people, the central question is not whether a government’s reforms can make society fairer and more equal, but whether the fairness and equality that they seek can give the public a sense of belonging, cohesion and group consciousness.

Society is filled with distrust and people feel very insecure about what the future has in store for them. Most people are bogged down in “postmodern collective anxiety.” Many think that life is unfair and they feel uneasy, frustrated and disheartened. It is easy for them to find fault, but not to find a piece of driftwood that they can use to stay afloat.

When people take part in social movements that focus on freedom and resistance, it can give them a sense of liberation, like Prometheus unbound, and allows them to feel they are the masters of their own fates. For others, it is a matter of following the latest fashion — the herd mentality — in a search for social recognition and self-realization.

Protest is not purely a reaction against government policy. It gives people a new understanding of society, culture and history. Social movements are not merely fashions. They can shape the direction and environment of future political developments and spur them on, while inspiring political ideas, organizations and trends.

However, one thing that Taiwan may have in common with other new democracies is that its political movements tend to lack independence and are incapable of attracting a diversity of civic forces from across the spectrum of society. These factors prevent them from effectively monitoring possible abuses of power by the government and political parties or from compelling leaders to carry out needed reforms.

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